In the hot seat: Trading up for a local lifestyle

In the hot seat: Trading up for a local lifestyle

What was your first job? Alan Duncan (AD): It was in the foreign exchange department of Thomas Cook in London, initially in the travellers' cheques department, then as foreign exchange cashier and finally as manager. I was there seven years. I then spent 13 years in London, dealing in foreign exchange and interest rate trading. I became a director of Credit Suisse First Boston and head of London money markets at EF Hutton, which was later swallowed by American Express. It was an exciting and financially rewarding period of my life, but it completely consumed every aspect and at 40 I was definitely suffering from burn-out.

How did you end up in the IT industry? AD: I decided to quit the London rat race and we moved to Australia. I had visited Perth on holiday and loved the relaxed style and the fantastic weather. I got my family settled, built a house and looked for a business. It wasn't easy and I considered many things from a nappy washing and delivery company to a nut and bolt manufacturer. After two years, the chance to buy what was then J Mills Agencies came along and I jumped at it.

How did you progress to where you are today? AD: The company was just three years old and largely an agent for software entertainment companies such as Electronic Arts and Dataflow. Back then, it was the WA distributor for Netcomm and Panasonic but had really done little with either. I soon realized software agencies were not the way forward and changed the company into a wholesale hardware distributor. It's been a hard road to travel but we continue to be successful, adding Emerson Network Power, Fuji Xerox, Kyocera, Netgear, Olympus, Pioneer, Samsung, Sharp and Sony to our line-up.

What do you like about your current job? AD: The product line-up is forever changing, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of our suppliers and competitors. It makes for a very dynamic environment that keeps you on your toes.

What is the biggest achievement of your career? AD: There were plenty of achievements in London, but in Perth it's probably staying alive in this ever-changing market. J Mills is now 21 and many competitors have disappeared. Four of our team of 12 have been ravaged by cancer over the past 3-4 years, including myself this year. So for all of us to emerge through this is an achievement in itself.

What do you dislike most about the IT industry? AD: It would be easy to say the price-cutters or that Perth is now over-distributed: with some suppliers there are six other distributors of the same product. Companies feel they must be national and see Western Australia as a stand-out state where they can make money. Perth isn't big enough for that. The market here is as competitive as Sydney or Melbourne, plus you have to put up with the interstate hassles of getting stuff over the Nullabor, freight derailments, and so on.

What will be the 'next big thing' in the industry? AD: I don't see a next big thing but there are two areas that are really growing: convergence between PCs and home entertainment and VoIP. With the new Windows Vista products, the IT industry has the opportunity to take advantage of convergence. We are seeing some interesting products emerging from Netgear and Dvico in the digital entertainment space that blend with our existing products from Panasonic and Sony.

What is the main focus for your company this year? AD: We just keep doing the things we do. We have 20 suppliers to look after. We generally aim for 10 per cent annual sales growth each year, which we need to do as falling prices means you must sell more to maintain revenue. But some prices don't seem to be dropping as much now and some are even going up.

What do you do when you are not at work? AD: I don't have much time outside work. Over the two-week Christmas shutdown, I will install a new SAP accounting system and get the business straight. But I like to travel when I can, particularly since Perth is such an isolated city. I have just returned from a five day trip to Queenstown, New Zealand, with Emerson. We did everything from jet boats to skeet shooting and it was fantastic.

Do you like gadgets? AD: I like to be on top of what is happening in the gadget world but I'm a pretty practical guy. Do I want to receive emails whilst I'm in my car or having dinner? Absolutely not! Do I want to arrange all my music, photos and films so that I can access them easily from any room in the house? You bet!

What did you want to be when you were younger? AD: I was inspired by some of my teachers at school and would have loved to follow that path. But at 18 I realised I didn't have that skillset.

What is your biggest ambition? AD: To take J Mills onward and upward whilst taking more of a backseat. I'm not getting any younger. Then there will be more travel abroad. I want to go back to Europe - the UK, France, Germany, Italy.

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